This other was Barney Custer of Beatrice. When the command to fire had been given to the squad of riflemen, a single bullet had creased the top of his head, stunning him. All day he had lain there unconscious. It had been the tugging of the ghoul at his ring that had roused him to life at last.
Behind him, as he scurried around the end of the factory building, he heard the scattering fire of half a dozen rifles, followed by a scream—the fleeing hyena had been hit. Barney crouched in the shadow of a pile of junk. He heard the voices of soldiers as they gathered about the wounded man, questioning him, and a moment later the imperious tones of an officer issuing instructions to his men to search the yard. That he must be discovered seemed a certainty to the American. He crouched further back in the shadows close to the wall, stepping with the utmost caution.
Presently to his chagrin his foot touched the metal cover of a manhole; there was a resultant rattling that smote upon Barney’s ears and nerves with all the hideous clatter of a boiler shop. He halted, petrified, for an instant. He was no coward, but after being so near death, life had never looked more inviting, and he knew that to be discovered meant certain extinction this time.
The soldiers were circling the building. Already he could hear them nearing his position. In another moment they would round the corner of the building and be upon him. For an instant he contemplated a bold rush for the fence. In fact, he had gathered himself for the leaping start and the quick sprint across the open under the noses of the soldiers who still remained beside the dying ghoul, when his mind suddenly reverted to the manhole beneath his feet. Here lay a hiding place, at least until the soldiers had departed.
Barney stooped and raised the heavy lid, sliding it to one side. How deep was the black chasm beneath he could not even guess. Doubtless it led into a coal bunker, or it might open over a pit of great depth. There was no way to discover other than to plumb the abyss with his body. Above was death—below, a chance of safety.
The soldiers were quite close when Barney lowered himself through the manhole. Clinging with his fingers to the upper edge his feet still swung in space. How far beneath was the bottom? He heard the scraping of the heavy shoes of the searchers close above him, and then he closed his eyes, released the grasp of his fingers, and dropped.
A RACE TO LUTHA
Barney’s fall was not more than four or five feet. He found himself upon a slippery floor of masonry over which two or three inches of water ran sluggishly. Above him he heard the soldiers pass the open manhole. It was evident that in the darkness they had missed it.
For a few minutes the fugitive remained motionless, then, hearing no sounds from above he started to grope about his retreat. Upon two sides were blank, circular walls, upon the other two circular openings about four feet in diameter. It was through these openings that the tiny stream of water trickled.